|Scheunemanns celebrates 112 years|
|Written by Darci Tomky|
|Wednesday, 12 October 2011 13:24|
Holyoke’s main street landscape has changed considerably in the last century, with hitching posts replaced by paved parking spots and dozens of colorful business storefronts calling downtown home over the years.
Despite all the changes, one family-owned Holyoke business undeniably lays claim to being the oldest business in town. Scheunemanns Department Store is celebrating its 112th anniversary this month.
“You have ups and downs in the business,” said third-generation owner Freeman II “Chip” Scheunemann. “It’s been enjoyable.”
Store has humble beginnings
August Scheunemann, Chip’s grandfather, homesteaded seven miles east of Holyoke in 1889. Since he had studied merchandising in Germany at the University of Berlin, it was a natural fit for him to go into that field after moving to America.
After being employed at a few general stores in Holyoke, August partnered with A. LeBlanc in the 1890s for a store called LeBlanc & Scheunemann, located at the northeast corner of the main intersection in town (currently the site of the Sinclair gas station).
He eventually bought out LeBlanc, and Scheunemanns Department Store was born.
Even though the store front looks different, the same building August Scheunemann built for his
“Competition was pretty stiff,” said Chip, noting there could have been as many as six general stores in Holyoke at that time.
Living in the horse-and-buggy days in the early 1900s, the people of Holyoke depended on these general stores for everything since they couldn’t travel out of town for supplies.
Scheunemanns sold everything from groceries and household items to clothes and fabric bolts.
Chip recently uncovered journals dated from 1896. The pages contain hundreds of hand-written pencil entries with the names of customers, the items they purchased and the price of those goods. It’s interesting to not only look at the extremely cheap prices but also to search for familiar Holyoke names, like John Heginbotham.
August constructed a new building for his general store in 1907—the same Scheunemanns building that stands today at 105 S. Interocean Ave.
Just like any other business, Scheunemanns was forced to adapt and change with the times in order to survive its 112-year history.
Chip said in the hard times of the late 1920s and early 1930s his grandfather August was very generous to his customers, allowing them to charge for goods when they did not have the money to pay for them. He said he still has a book of records containing the accounts that still owe Scheunemanns money 80 years later.
Scheunemanns moves into new era
August died in 1933, leaving the store in the hands of his son Freeman and his widow Beda.
Scheunemanns gave Holyoke’s downtown a new look in 1954 when it got a new front—the same look it still has today. The neon sign came a few years later in 1958.
Chip, who grew up in the family business, said some of his favorite memories are from working in the store during his junior high years. As a young man, he worked in the grocery area. He said it was customary for people to call in their grocery orders, and it was his job to gather the groceries, put the order together and deliver it to the customer.
Out of the over 400 people Scheunemanns has employed in the last 112 years, Chip said they employed a lot of high school students to do jobs like that.
Chip left Holyoke to get a college business education, returning to the family business full time in 1967 as a third-generation Scheunemann.
“I always liked it,” said Chip, hinting that he was always excited to take over the family store. “I admired the people, and I followed in their footsteps.”
One hundred twelve years ago Scheunemanns served Holyoke as a general store, selling everything
He worked in partnership with his father until his death in 1978 and his grandmother in 1979. Chip’s mother Mildred continued to help with the business until her death in 1994.
Scheunemanns discontinued their grocery line around 1960 but continued to sell items in the gift, domestic, footwear and clothing departments.
People continue to ask about the large cash register used for decades in the store. Chip still keeps the antique in the basement of the building. He also said the ceiling is the original from the 1907 building, otherwise most of the store has been remodeled at some point.
Chip said one big change he’s seen over the years is the switch to selling almost all goods that are made outside the United States. “Everything is foreign-made,” he said, “and that’s a shame.”
Despite all the tough economic times in the last century, the original 1907 Scheunemanns building also had to survive two fires.
In 1978, the building just to the north of Scheunemanns, formerly Phillips County State Bank, was destroyed by a fire and was later torn down (now the site of the Lions Club mini park). On the other side, Knight and Son’s home decorating business burned to the ground in 1987 (now the location of Bill’s TV). This time, Scheunemanns did receive considerable smoke damage.
In 2011, the business focuses mostly on its extensive line of clothing. Chip said one of his favorite things about the business is traveling three or four times a year to the merchandising markets in Denver where he can choose new items for the store.
Carolyn Koberstein, who has worked at Scheunemanns since 1989, will help celebrate the store’s 112th anniversary this month.
Holyoke Enterprise October 13, 2011